Each and every year Cabela releases a series of hunting games on multiple platforms. The past couple years they have started bundling in plastic guns attempting to entice consumers into the experience, but they are largely the same games. This is fine. The consumers who buy them usually do so every year, and for that audience the games are perfectly serviceable. This year the team has delivered yet another ho-hum shooter in the guise of hunting dangerous creatures, again with a plastic shotgun. While the games lack creativity, they still manage to be mildly entertaining.
The game starts off with a narrative about two sons and their father on a hunting trip. During this trip (which also serves as the tutorial) your father steps in front of a bear to save his two sons. While it sounds dramatic, the stale voice acting and blurry cut scenes really do little to draw you in. Now I am not trivializing the tragedy, but vengeance against a bear seems silly. Nevertheless, that is the arc of the story. The game jumps to ten years later as the main character is in a remote area hunting down big game with his brother. You have flashbacks to that fateful day to learn more about the mechanics, but it never solidifies itself as a story to care about.
Of course all of that is not the point of a game with a shotgun peripheral now is it? The point here is to get your gun and mow down hordes of hyenas and track rhinos. The core game is basically a first-person shooter with some on-rails action tossed in. The game really segregates itself with the two modes. One is much easier with a standard controller, while the other benefits from the light gun. I am not a fan of this separation as it makes switching between the two a chore. The FPS segments play like any traditional shooter where you pull left trigger to aim down the sights, and shoot with the right trigger.
In addition to the FPS levels you also have what they call shooting galleries. These have you in an on-rails scenario, and you move the aiming cursor around the screen to shoot animals. While great in theory, these sequences are a pain with the standard controller. The reticle moves awkwardly and fairly slowly, making shots unnecessarily difficult. Switch to the Fearmaster gun, though, and things smooth out (as long as you have it calibrated properly). This is a polarizing feature. I feel the game would have benefitted from sticking to one format or the other. Shooting galleries are also available from the main menu as side pieces to the game, and can be played co-op with friends locally.
There are some weird design choices in the game. For starters there is no option to turn on subtitles from any menu. I do not understand that in today’s world. Every game should come packed with that option. Animals also disappear after killing them, so there is no way to collect them, perhaps for display in a trophy case. There is also a leveling system that never clearly explains itself outside of the loading screens. The worst part was that, the first time it popped up, it was only visible for a split second before it disappeared.
There are collectibles in the game in the form of antlers, though they should really be called skulls as that is what they are attached to. These basically unlock new shooting gallery levels. The game also has what it dubs “hunting vision,” which essentially highlights your path and collectibles. I found myself using this constantly, almost as much as detective vision in the Batman games, but for different reasons. Paths are not always clearly marked, so navigation is usually confusing. Though it claims to highlight collectibles, I found it much easier to spot them with it off.
Visually, the game is a mess. Outside of disappearing animals and blurry cut scenes, it also chugs consistently. This isn’t the sharpest game on the market, so the fact that it can’t keep a steady 30fps is peculiar. Locales look nice from a distance, and there are a few neat effects like seeing the reflection of the setting sun in puddles, but these are few and far between. The music feels lifted from a royalty-free collection and the voice acting is not much better. The characters all feel like they don’t want to be in the game any more than you do at times.
Cabela’s Dangerous Hunts 2013 will service its fanbase, but few others. The one-year subscription to a hunting magazine packaged in the box tells the whole story. This game is not broken, but also far from making any waves. If you enjoyed previous entries, you will likely be satisfied with what is here. The new gun feels good, and the shooting galleries are entertaining, but the rest just feels like it was dialed in for the yearly sequel.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.